In his first interview since he was badly wounded by a politically motivated gunman, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise called his survival “a miracle” and recounted a shocking act of violence that left four others injured and threatened the lives of dozens of Republican lawmakers.
“If you look at what happened that morning, you know, a gunman came out with a lot of artillery just hellbent on killing a lot of us, and we’re just out there playing baseball, sitting ducks, and he just started firing away,” Scalise said in an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” broadcast Sunday. “If you said to us, at the end of this, the only person who would be dead would be the shooter, no one would have believed it.”
Scalise, La., 51, was among a group of Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game early on the morning of June 14 when James K. Hodgkinson, an unemployed Illinois man, opened fire with a powerful rifle at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia. Scalise was struck in the hip, with the round shattering his pelvis and femur and causing bleeding that brought him to the edge of death.
“The first thing that came to mind, I prayed to God: Please, don’t make my daughter have to walk up the aisle alone,” Scalise recalled. “And obviously, after that, I prayed that I could see my family again.”
As Scalise laid in the outfield, he recalled hearing Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, urging him to hang on as police subdued the shooter.
“I just remember him whispering: “Stevie, don’t worry. We’re gonna get you. We’re gonna get you,’ ” he said. “He just kept whispering. And it was really calming.”
After Hodgkinson was fatally shot by police, Scalise’s congressional colleagues rushed to his side – including Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, a former Army combat surgeon. During the segment, Wenstrup described applying improvised tourniquets and bandages as Scalise awaited helicopter evacuation to MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
“I was very worried, actually,” Wenstrup said. “It reminded me of a case in Iraq where it didn’t have a good ending.”
Jack Sava, the surgeon who led the trauma team that treated Scalise, said the lawmaker was “hovering on the border between life and death.”
“When he left the trauma unit, he did not have a blood pressure that anybody could find,” he said, adding that Scalise was transfused with more blood in the immediate aftermath of the shooting than a person has in their body.
Scalise recalled waiting for the helicopter to arrive: “It seemed like forever. I told some of those paramedics: Don’t let me bleed out on this field.”
Asked by interviewer Norah O’Donnell whether he had been targeted by Hodgkinson, Scalise said that “it was clear what his intentions were,” but he characterized the shooting more as the doing of a madman than as a political act.
“I think it was clear he had a political agenda, if you want to even call it that,” he said. “It was a sick, twisted agenda. He couldn’t have been in the right frame of mind.”
Scalise returned to the Capitol on Thursday, addressing a packed House chamber to loud bipartisan cheers. He also returned to his home state over the weekend, attending a Louisiana State University football game in Baton Rouge on Saturday.
In the “60 Minutes” interview, he reflected on the bipartisan feelings his recovery and return have prompted and expressed hope that they will persist.
“When everybody goes into their separate corners, it’s just real easy to demonize the other side instead of saying, ‘OK, how can we come together and figure out how to get done what’s important for the country?’ ” he said. “Hopefully, this might have pulled us a little bit closer together. It’s easy for that to go away, but hopefully we focus on how we can achieve some of those things we haven’t been able to get done yet.”
Cameras captured scenes of Scalise undergoing inpatient rehabilitation – including some of the first steps he took on his own, with only crutches. During his recovery, CBS reported, Scalise lost 50 pounds and had metal plates implanted to rebuild his pelvis.
“It gave me hope,” said his wife, Jennifer Scalise. “It’s hard seeing him not to be able to do things on his own and walk on this own. It was a huge sigh of relief that he can do this. He’s got this.”
Addressing the House on Thursday, Scalise paid tribute to the U.S. Capitol Police officers on his security detail – David Bailey and Crystal Griner – who were with Scalise that morning and were the first to repel Hodgkinson.
The officers were not interviewed by CBS, but Wenstrup reflected on the importance of their presence that day, thanks to Scalise: “Steve really took a bullet for all of us. Because if he’s not here, he doesn’t get hit. But if he’s not here, there might be 20 people laying out there.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Mike Debonis